Rajmohan Gandhi: Get ready for threats from the ‘indignant state’, a climate of Zabardasti

What does May 23 mean to India? If the past is an indication, dissenters and opposition must be ready to bear the brunt of ‘Zabardasti’

PTI Photo (file)
PTI Photo (file)

Rajmohan Gandhi

For the many who desired another result, sadness is unavoidable, but we must move on to understanding what happened.

Pulwama, Balakot, mammoth funds, a sharply tilted playing field, partisan umpires, division in the opposing ‘team’, and control over commentators contributed to Modi’s victory in the match. But it was not as if opposition voices were not heard. After hearing everything, the voter -- the malik -- emphatically chose Modi. There was a wave.

And while Rahul Gandhi struck large numbers with his spontaneity, openness, and frankness, providing a refreshing contrast to the calculation noticeable in Narendra Modi and to the latter’s refusal to take questions, many more were willing to place India’s future in Modi’s hands. Voting percentages revealed the dominance of the Modi admirer.

Thus, it is with popular endorsement that India 2019 has become a state that signals threats to dissenters. I call it an ‘indignant state’.

Indignation against imagined traitors, vilification through fake history of some of the nation’s greatest heroes because of their refusal to say that India equals Hindu India, demonisation of minorities and dissenters, and the injection of a victim complex in the Hindu majority have been major elements in the campaign waged for the last many years.

Built with resolve and energy on a foundation of dislike, the Indignant State will now act on behalf of the campaign. For one thing, threats from the Indignant State will now descend on the opposition’s ministries in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Punjab, and Chhattisgarh, in varying degrees of imminence.

Mr. Modi’s post-victory words of commitment to the Constitution and to Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas are welcome, and his new government should be held to these assurances. But no optimism over democratic rights was generated by his first term, or by his and his candidates’ recent rhetoric.

A climate of zabardasti poses a common challenge to the nation as a whole. The verdict of May 23 suggests that a great many Indians today do not mind such a climate, or they refuse to recognise it.

Fortunately, those offended by zabardasti also exist in large numbers. In the months and years to come, alertness to zabardasti’s appearance and, wherever possible, resistance to it will, to my mind, become at least as important as trying to win future elections. Every incident where an arm of the state or a private mob forces people to act against their will warrant exposure and opposition.

That India is independent as a nation is not good enough. Indians as individual persons should feel that they are free to speak, believe, pray, and act as they want, and free also to refuse to pray, speak, sing or act as others or the state command. This is what has been guaranteed by the Constitution in which Mr. Modi has reiterated his faith.

In both ethical and legal terms, liberty carries a corollary: every Indian should extend liberty to fellow-Indians. No zabardasti by anyone against anyone, except when servants of the state have to enforce the law -- that is the principle. When zabardasti occurs in spite of the principle, the police must intervene to protect its victim.

Which is precisely where limbs of the state failed during Mr. Modi’s first term.

A battle against zabardasti cannot be selective. It is not enough that in his victory speech Mr. Amit Shah, the BJP chief, remembered victims from his party in violence occurring in Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal. He and his party’s governments, whether at the Centre or in the states, must be reminded of their duty whenever and wherever zabardasti looks for victims, even when these victims belong to parties or faiths different from his.

The same applies to the opposition’s ministries. If, to use Mr. Modi’s phrase, there were persons who did not ‘stop, tire, or bend’ during their fight in the elections, surely Mamata Banerjee was in the top bracket of such a list. Her unperturbed yet spirited response to the Modi-Shah pressure encouraged every lover of liberty.

Yet Mamata-didi must also ensure that members of her party do not coerce their adversaries. On this score the TMC’s record so far has not been good enough.

If, in the time they have left or will be allowed, non-BJP ministries and their supporters can demonstrate a commitment to protect the life and rights of every targeted person, that would be a solid contribution in the fight, likely to be long, to recover India’s climate of tolerance.

Compared with the state’s licence in recent years to zabardasti, the failure of politicians to work together even when they face a common adversary is an older story in independent India, and an oft-recurring one.

We’ve recently seen that story in AAP. We’ve seen it between Congress and JDS workers on the ground in Karnataka. Working together seems to have been a problem between Congressmen in MP and Rajasthan after the Congress formed ministries there.

How will the constituents of Kerala’s Congress-led UDF conduct their mutual relations in the months ahead? How will the DMK-Congress alliance work in Tamil Nadu? How will Jagan Mohan Reddy’s team perform in Andhra? Will Chhattisgarh’s Congress leaders stay together?

Despite the disappointment at the hustings, can the SP and the BSP persist with their alliance, and even try to take it deeper?

Once more we have more questions than answers. There is also a disquieting sense that the latest political pattern, exciting to many and troubling to others, may last for quite some time.

Enthusiasm about the Modi-Shah success has reminded me of the fervour with which the Islamic Revolution was greeted in Iran in 1979, forty years ago, that is. Although fervour died fairly quickly, and zabardasti injured supporters as well as foes of the revolution, the regime lives on. The analogy is hardly perfect, but the thought it conveys is not pleasant for an Indian after May 23.

The faithful, however, never cease their struggle. Dream or nightmare, this too will go away sooner or later.

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Published: 25 May 2019, 7:15 PM